15 April 2011

Beynes There, Done That

I said goodbye to my vegetable vendor yesterday, which, like every Thursday in Beynes, was market day. I told him I was going back to America, and Franck* received this news with a remarkable lack of sentimentality: he cocked one eyebrow and exclaimed, “So I’ll see you in a couple of months, then?” Apparently, my “definitive departures” have gotten to be undramatic, even routine.

But the fact remains that I can’t afford to keep coming and going this way: can’t afford it financially, or physically, or emotionally. It’s grueling, this business of pulling up stakes every few months, packing all my belongings into heavy suitcases, and bidding farewell — no, not farewell — au revoir — to the only roof I can call my own. Sort of. And this time, I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back.

I’ve been coming to this little house for 20 years, making my first prolonged stay in 1999, when I spent an entire summer here. And here, I’ve had the opportunity to pursue a kind of housekeeping that’s remote in many ways from my old habits in New York. I cooked my first rabbit in the little kitchen, my first leg of lamb, and my first preserves. My back is stooped now from washing dishes at the little sink. (The house’s original owner, a spinster schoolteacher named Juliette Challat, was evidently very, very short.) This is the only place I’ve ever lived where I lock the front door with a skeleton key.

All the while, I have been able to live out a boyhood dream, and it seems important to bear in mind that, no matter what happens next, nothing can change that fundamental fact. I always wanted to live in France, like a Frenchman. And for seven years, I’ve done it. Not many other people can say the same. I mustn’t let myself look on this move as a retreat.

So rather than getting maudlin (or worse), I ask your indulgence as I celebrate some of the lessons I have learned, here on the sleepy banks of the Petite Mauldre, in the shade of the mirabelle tree.

What I Have Learned in Beynes

1. How to use a gas stove without a pilot light, and how not to blow up the house in the process.

2. How to mow the lawn with an electric-powered machine that has no wheels and therefore must be shoved, and that does not cut the grass so much as mash it down for a while.

3. How to do this without running over the extension cord.

4. That mowing the lawn in spring means ruining the wild violets and primaveras.

5. That the idea of gardening is better than the fact of it, particularly when you get a cold, rainy summer. There is nothing romantic about tomatoes rotting on the vine.

6. That the garden is home to many kinds of wild life, including songbirds, moles, hedgehogs, snails, all manner of insects, and the occasional feral cat, most of which are determined to destroy all nearby vegetation and not one of which recognizes your right to live there, too.

7. That living on the main street means that the picket fence in front of the house will be periodically knocked down by vehicles driven by people who are in no hurry to help you repair the damage they’ve caused.

8. That the main street is the parade route for thrice-annual celebrations for the local schoolchildren, who evidently would be traumatized if they weren’t allowed every four months to dump heaps of confetti all over your doorstep, which neither they nor anyone else in town will bother to clean up afterward, and which you’ll be tracking into the house for the next year.

9. That ditto ditto dog shit ditto ditto.

10. That there is really nothing you can do to keep a white-tile floor clean in the entryway of a house on the aforementioned main street in a country village.

11. That the French penchant for do-it-yourself home repair and remodeling projects (bricolage) is much less quaint and adorable when portions of your home are indefinitely uninhabitable, and you can’t even open the back door for all the equipment and supplies stacked there, while in the meantime other, minor repair jobs go unattended. For years.

12. That if you keep your radiators clean in winter, and your clothesline hanging in summer, you’ll never need a dryer. Except during the spring and fall.

13. That keeping the larder stocked requires meticulous planning, since every store in town takes a lunch break, then closes for the night between 7 and 8, and if you aren’t on your toes, you’ll starve.

14. That living in the miraculous land of Picard frozen foods doesn’t mean much if your refrigerator doesn’t have a freezer compartment.

15. That, in France, eating alone is no excuse for skimping on the courses. Ideally, every meal should consist of a starter (perhaps soup), main course (with multiple vegetables), green salad, and cheese course, all accompanied by wine, and perhaps dessert and coffee. If you cooked a meal in your cuisine in Beynes, then it’s French cuisine, de facto, and it must be respected as such!

16. That preparing nice things for Bernard to take back to Paris and eat during the week does not guarantee that he will actually eat them. (Subtitle: “What’s That Smell?” or The Sad Fate of That Roast Chicken I Made for You the Other Weekend.)

17. That, while it’s very nice to be so close to Paris, the commute would probably drive you insane if you did it on a daily basis, and there are times when it’s really too much hassle to go into town.

18. That, therefore, it is sometimes quite easy to keep ’em down on the farm when they’ve seen the lights of gay Paree.

*NOTE: Yes, after all these years, I have learned my vegetable vendor’s first name. I overheard someone addressing him the other day.


John Yohalem said...

"I always wanted to live in France, like a Frenchman. And for seven years, I’ve done it. Not many other people can say the same."

Je t'envie, copain.

Kevin Pask said...

I'll miss it. And I haven't been there.

Michael Leddy said...

Fare forward, traveler.

Anonymous said...

Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue!